Calls for new heart disease strategy for Scotland as figures show postcode lottery test wait times

A national charity has called for a new heart disease strategy for Scotland as figures reveal significant variation in waiting times for vital tests.

David McColgan, British Heart Foundation Scotland

British Heart Foundation (BHF) Scotland has accused the Scottish Government of years of under-investment, as information obtained by the charity revealed inequalities in access to tests.

Heart and circulatory diseases cause around 50 deaths each day in Scotland – almost a third of all deaths – with one in eight of these at working age.

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An estimated 700,000 Scots are living with heart conditions.

Research suggests that people with underlying health conditions such as coronary heart disease are at increased risk of severe complications from coronavirus and an increased risk of death.

But according to BHF Scotland analysis, the Scottish Government is spending 81 times more per cancer diagnosis through its strategy, and 62 times more on type two diabetes.

The calls come as new figures obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests reveal a postcode lottery in test waiting times across Scotland.

Figures obtained by BHF Scotland found significant variation across the country.

The information showed in some health board areas, almost one in four patients are having to wait more than six months for a test, while in other parts of the country the figure is less than one in 50.

BHF Scotland says disparity is amplified by the pandemic and is now calling for a new heart disease strategy for Scotland to address under-investment.

The charity has drafted a plan with more than 70 clinical professionals.

One of three key priorities outlined is to ensure everyone has timely and equitable access to diagnosis, treatment and care.

David McColgan, senior policy and public affairs manager at BHF Scotland, said: “Heart disease is a major cause of ill health and death in Scotland and yet the Scottish Government’s plans to tackle heart disease haven’t been updated since 2014. During this time, there have been a lot of changes in the health care system, not least due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Health inequalities also remain. Rates of heart and circulatory diseases in the most deprived areas of Scotland are significantly higher than those in the least deprived areas.

"Dealing with these challenges and years of under-investment means that new national priorities for addressing heart disease in Scotland are needed. That’s why BHF Scotland has been working with the clinical community and heart patients to identify them.

"As we look forward to the Scottish elections at Holyrood in May, we are calling on all political parties to commit to work with us to tackle these issues.”

Dr David Murdoch, chair of the National Advisory Committee for Heart Disease and a consultant physician and cardiologist, said: “There’s no doubt there has been great success in improving survival rates from acute events like heart attacks in Scotland over recent decades.

"While this is hugely positive, it also means there are now more people living with heart conditions than ever before. We are working hard to improve access to prevention, efficient diagnosis with modern cardiac imaging and the latest treatments. We also need to make sure that access is equitable, no matter where people live.”

The Scottish Government was contacted for comment.

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